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The Talent Drain

Yes, we miss a bunch of guys collecting NFL paychecks. No, we still shouldn't be this awful on offense.

This guy is awesome
This guy is awesome
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Odell Beckham broke the internet on Sunday night with one of the single most amazing catches anybody has ever seen. He finished the game with 10 catches for 146 yards and 2 TD. His old teammate, Jarvis Landry, didn't have quite the same day, as he only eked out 7 catches for 50 yards and 2 scores. Their quarterback from last year threw for 345 yards and 2 TD on a 20 for 39 day.

Oh, and two of the running backs from last year's team squared off against one another and combined to go 133 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. That's a lot of production that's gone off to the NFL, and it's hard to put into words just how much LSU misses those players. But let's try.

LSU wide receivers only have five touchdown catches on the year in SEC play. Malachi Dupre has three of those TD catches, and he's only had one in the past two months. Travin Dural has the other two, and his last score was over a month ago. Since Brandon Harris' fourth quarter rally against Mississippi State, LSU quarterbacks have thrown all of four touchdown passes, all by Anthony Jennings. That's a rate of two touchdowns a month.

Travin Dural started the season on fire, and had three 100-yard receiving days in the first four games, two against top tier opponents (151 against Wisconsin and 124 against State). No LSU receiver has reached the century mark since September 20th.

345 yards passing? That's a pipe dream. LSU cracked 300 yards only once this season, against State in a combined effort by Harris and Jennings reaching 341 yards. Jennings threw for 239 yards against Wisconsin, but since September, LSU's best passing day was a mere 142 yards, achieved twice (Auburn and Ole Miss). LSU's passing yards in the last three games combined only equals 305 yards on 28 of 64 attempts, and 2 TD to 3 picks.

Yes, there's a bunch of talent in the NFL, but LSU's offense is getting worse as the season goes on, not better. Even stripping out the games against completely overmatched foes, LSU gained 580 yards in the air on 29 of 48 passing attempts. The offense scored 4 touchdowns through the air against Wisconsin and State. In the past six games, LSU has only 677 yards on 53/125. Oh, and the TD/INT ratio has gone from 4/1 to 4/4.

If this offensive ineptitude was a result of so much talent going to the NFL, why were the two best offensive performances of the season the first two games against live opponents? Why is the offense not just moving backwards, but at a frightening rate? The passing game went from 290.0 yards/game in the first two games to 112.8 yards/game in the last six. Yes, a lot of that is the fourth quarter of the state game, but even just counting Jennings' stats in the first two games, the passing offense went for 427 yards and 213.5 per game.

It's not like the offense was a well-oiled machine with all of those NFL players last year. LSU ranked 45th in the nation in passing offense at 251.0 yards/game. Now, LSU is down to 112th and 169.1 yards.  That's still 100 yards/game that has just evaporated.

Last season, LSU ranked 35th in total offense and 23rd in scoring. Those are respectable marks, but it does seem low for a team that graduated virtually all of its skill players to NFL starting gigs. Before we condemn Miles and crew for that, it's worth noting that those numbers are reflection of pace, as LSU doesn't run as many plays as a lot of high-powered offenses, preferring to control tempo. On a yards/play basis, LSU's offense ranked 7th in the nation with 6.94 yards/play. You can claim about the philosophy of pace, but I don't think you can reasonably state that LSU didn't get great production out of those great players.

However, you can see how the offense has fallen off the table without them. This season, LSU ranks 86th in total offense and 74th in scoring. That's about 50 ordinal ranks off of the pace from last season. The yard/play average dropped by over a yard and half to 5.36, good for 78th in the nation.

The only thing that hasn't fallen off a cliff is the running game. Last year, LSU ranked 29th in the nation at 202.3 yards/game. This year, the average is slightly up and the overall rank is slightly down: 35th and 204.6 yards/game. Leonard Fournette hasn't walked on water, but he has ably replaced Jeremy Hill's production.

LSU, so long as it is coached by Les miles, is never going to throw for 300 yards a game and put up video game scores. He's too philosophically conservative and he values time of possession too much to ever do that. And it has been a winning formula for him, and it's not like too many fast break offenses are winning titles. That's a reasonable strategic decision.

What is not reasonable is throwing for 169 yards/game and 113 over the past two months. That's not conservative play-calling, that's offensive ineptitude. The offense cannot rank near the bottom of the nation in yards/play and contend for titles.

I'm not averse to taking a step back in order to take a step forward. There's no problem with reorienting the offense to a more power-based attack to take advantage of a defense that currently ranks 12th in total defense, 19th in yards/play, and fifth in scoring. With a defense putting up those kind of numbers, you don't need a high-powered offense to win a lot of games. You just need it to not suck out loud.

Our offense has sucked out loud. Worse yet, it is getting progressively worse as the season moves on. Anthony Jennings has gone from a caretaker who took care of the football and could connect on the occasional deep ball to a guy who cannot do anything right. That's not on him, that's on the staff. At this point in the season, a quarterback should be building off the early season positives to become a more well-rounded player. Not only has he had not added anything to his game, Jennings has lost the few positive attributes he had going for him.

A quarterback blessed with a defense threatening to crack the top ten and a running game that can get 200 yards a game should not be struggling this mightily. He doesn't have to be an asset, but he can't be a black hole of productivity. The coaches need to develop a quarterback, and right quick.

Or we're about to see another batch of players dominate the NFL without the success in college to show for it.